Pearl thrilled with signees

The Friday addition of Duke Crews capped off a four-man signing class that has new Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl grinning from ear to ear.

"I'm really excited about Duke," Pearl said moments after the Vols drilled Carson-Newman 106-73 in an exhibition game at Thompson-Boling Arena. "This year's recruiting was like a snowball. It started with Marques (Johnson) and Wayne (Chism). If we don't have Marques and Wayne in the house, Duke doesn't pay any attention to us. Those guys have been going to camps together for years, and Duke was impressed."

Pearl saw Crews last summer at the Nike Camp, where his combination of physical toughness and determination moved him to No. 1 on UT's Most Wanted List.

"Duke Crews was not as highly rated before the Nike Camp," Pearl noted. "He played with a chip on his shoulder. He said, ‘OK, where's the guy going to North Carolina? Where's the guy going to Duke?' And he went after them, attacked them all. He came out of there rated one of the top five players in the camp."

Once Crews soared to a five-star rating, Pearl figured the Vols' chances of signing him had disappeared.

"I thought, ‘That's it. Forget it. The cat's out of the bag. We can't stay involved,'" Pearl recalled. "But Tony Jones did a wonderful job with Duke. Scott Edgar and Tony worked tirelessly. I've never had an assistant recruit as hard as Scott Edgar."

Pearl's first signing class is generally regarded as one of the top 10 hauls in college basketball. Pearl seems more relieved than excited, however.

"It's what's required," he said. "We're trying to win championships, and you've got to have great players to win championships. Kentucky had a good class, Arkansas had a good class, we had a good class. This is what we HAVE to do."

Since Tennessee has not been to an NCAA Tournament in four years and Pearl has not coached a regular-season game at the school yet, he basically had to sell prospects on Tennessee's potential. He obviously sold them pretty well.

"I'm really pleased with how it happened," he said. "All of these kids had opportunities to go places where they could keep it going. Instead, they wanted to go to a place where they could GET it going.

"This university did a phenomenal job of helping me. Every one of those guys met with Pat (Summitt). They met with Phillip (Fulmer). They saw the success of the athletics program, and they believed me when I told them we could get the men's basketball program to be competitive like the rest of our programs.

"If we didn't have such a great football program … if the Lady Vols weren't as dominant ... I don't think it happens. But the kids, like me, saw it happen everywhere else (among UT sports) and think it can happen here."

Pearl got two inside players (the 6-7 Crews and the 6-9 Chism), plus two combo guards (the 6-5 Johnson and 6-4 Josh Tabb). Asked if either of the guards has the skills needed to play the point, Pearl grinned.

"They better be capable of playing it because C.J. (Watson) is going to be graduating," the coach said. "Marques Johnson is clearly better with the ball than without it, even at 6-5 or 6-6. He is a better point than he is off the ball.

"And Josh Tabb can play both, 1 (point) and 2 (off guard). It will depend on who they can guard. Can Marques guard the point guard? Offensively, he can play the position."

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